Thieves Benefiting from State Negligence

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The Omaheke Region is not the only region where thieves are looting and stripping government farms, seemingly right under the noses of the authorities. Only recently, the farm Barbarossahof 182 in the Grootfontein district suffered a similar fate with thieves stripping the zinc sheets from the entire roof of the main farmhouse and outlying buildings. The marauders also unceremoniously simply ripped out doors, together with their doorframes, from the surrounding concrete masonry. Previous owners AndrÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚© and Linda Rousseau built a well-designed covered goat enclosure on the farm, which would have been a major bonus for any small-scale farmer resettled on the farm. Now however, every zinc sheet covering the goat enclosure is gone, meaning an already cash-strapped resettled farmer would have to dig deep into his pocket to replace all the roofing. A farmer’s most valuable asset apart from grazing and water – from a management point of view at least – is perhaps fencing. Kilometres upon kilometres of valuable fencing is gone, with many of the five-wire standard stock fences miraculously still being held up by a single remaining strand of wire. The bandits also pulled out the pipes at a submersible pump installation, stealing the costly pump but leaving the plastic pipes behind. These were villains with discerning tastes, being very selective about what they stole and what they left behind, one would say. They stole zinc sheeting and fencing wire, while leaving behind ceiling boards, a 150-litre capacity hot water geyser and a washing machine. Local sources in Grootfontein district say that – as in most parts of the country – there is a long history of farms purchased by the government for resettlement being stripped of valuable infrastructure. The one redeeming feature in the Grootfontein area is that local authorities took relatively speedy action, unlike in Omaheke where both police and local officials were slow to act. At Barbarossahof there appeared to be no sign of an organised crime syndicate at work, as there seemed to be in the Omaheke Region – possibly involving government contractors and officials. The thefts at Barbarossahof are more opportunistic in nature, showing no signs of being a highly organised operation. Items such as the water tank mounted on a 10-metre high scaffold, which can normally only be removed using a crane, remains untouched on the farm. Station Commander at Grootfontein Police Station, Inspector Traveller Amon Ndilula, confirmed police have two suspects in custody in connection with the thefts at Barbarossahof. The thefts at the farm took place some time in March, and police caught the thieves in Grootfontein not long thereafter. Members of the public reported seeing the unsophisticated crooks openly selling the corrugated zinc sheeting and a generator stolen from the farm in Grootfontein. Ndilula emphasised that only the cooperation of members of the public made the arrests possible. The police first tried to catch the culprits red-handed while stealing from the farm, but without success. On April 10, 2007 the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement in the region dispatched ministry employee Stephanus Damona to Barbarossahof to act as caretaker and secure the property. The ministry normally employs Damona at Mangetti Dune, where he expects to return once resettled farmers occupy the farm in early June. He brought two or three relatives to stay with him on the farm, fearing possible attack from the bandits if left alone there. His only complaint is that he has no vehicle, or even a tractor, making it impossible for him to adequately patrol the farm. Local Regional Councillor Peter Kawana, whose own farm is close to Barbarossahof, was instrumental in persuading the ministry to send a caretaker. Kawana has also actively co-operated with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to prevent illegal poaching on the government-owned property. Although the local authorities deserve some praise for taking rapid action once they discovered the thefts, the fact remains the farm remained unprotected for nine months. After purchasing the farm, the Namibian government was supposed to have taken ownership at the end of June 2006. There has been a significant reduction in the infrastructure value of the farm, making the task of any farmer resettled on Barbarossahof so much more difficult. Ironically, the government regularly complains that the prices farmers ask for commercial farmland is too high. However, when the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement has purchased a farm, it then sets about destroying anything from between 25 percent or more of the assets value of the property through sheer negligence.